How to Handle Magic’s Near-Constant Release Schedule on a Budget

Recently, it seems like a new Magic set releases each week. War of the Spark was quickly followed by Modern Horizons, which has already been shoved out of the spotlight by Magic 2020. And if you’re a Commander player, this summer’s releases aren’t done yet – Commander 2019 hits stores in just about four weeks.

If you’re tight on cash, managing all these new releases can be tough. Nobody NEEDS new Magic cards, but it feels good to upgrade decks or build new ones when new cards come out. No one likes feeling like they’ve been left behind (or are losing more) because of their budget.

I consider myself a fairly budget-conscious Magic player. In the face of so many recent releases, I’ve been working to define my strategy for playing Magic on a budget. This is how I handle playing Standard, Limited, Modern, and Commander (as well as a couple other formats) on a budget – hopefully, my strategies will help you manage your own purchases.

For Standard and Limited: Play Magic Arena for Free

Buying a new deck each Standard season is not for me. And while I love the experience of drafting, I don’t always feel like dropping $12 on cards I know I’ll never use afterward.

So for the most part, I avoided Standard and Limited – until Magic Arena came around.

Now, without spending a dime (or “grinding,” as the kids say – I don’t play all that often), I’m able to build roughly one new Standard deck per couple set releases. On top of that, I usually draft a couple times per release. If you’re on an incredibly tight budget and want to play Magic for absolutely free, Arena is your best bet. I’ve found that you can remain semi-competitive while playing for free, if that’s your thing.

Just be aware, you are not going to have much room to experiment with pet decks or brews or even multiple decks per release. Until you get the dual lands you need, Rare wildcards will be your sticking point (unless you build a mono-color deck first). You will spend most all of them on lands. After that, Mythics are the next tightest wildcards, followed by Commons (if you find yourself spamming Pauper events like I do).

MTG Arena Wildcards - Matt Plays Magic
Uncommon wildcards, however, you’ll have a TON of.

You’ll also face the choice of buying booster packs, hoping for good pulls or wildcards to upgrade your Standard deck, or drafting. There will be many times that you don’t have enough coins to do both. In this situation, I say follow your bliss. Recently, I’ve been ripping open packs (tearing the digital wrapper into 1s and 0s?) to stock up on wildcards. But I plan to start saving coins soon, so I can draft whatever’s coming after Magic 2020.

Whatever your gold/wildcard strategy, just remember to have fun – and do your best to ignore all the needless add-ons and cosmetics that Wizards is (increasingly) trying to break your budget with.

For Modern: Focus on One Deck and Buy Cards at the Right Time

I’ve dabbled with a number of Modern decks over the years, but may have finally found myself trying to keep too many decks up-to-date at once.

Part of this stems directly from Wizards MANY recent releases: every Guilds of Ravnica set impacted Modern in some way, and then Modern Horizons steamrolled in to shake up the whole metagame. It did so by introducing a number of never-before-printed Rares and Mythics that are already kind of expensive by my standards, and are eventually going to race up in value.

In the face of too many Modern cards being released too quickly, I’ve decided to rein in the number of decks I’m interested in upgrading or building toward. I could spend $120+ dollars converting Grixis/Dimir Death’s Shadow into Esper Death’s Shadow … or I could just stick with the decks I own and save that money.

Likewise, I never really got a handle on Modern Storm, I barely play Esper Gifts, and my attempts at building Jeskai Kiki/Control never got off the ground. I can shelve all three of those archetypes pretty cleanly, sell some of those cards, and use the proceeds to purchase cards for the decks I’m keeping: Izzet Delver (which is my first love and got a big upgrade in Archmage’s Charm) and Grixis/Dimir Shadow (which will finally get Leyline of the Void thanks to the upcoming reprint).

All that is a roundabout way of saying I plan to sell cards I’m not using, limit my purchases to cards I’ll use in the one to three decks I know I’ll play, and abandon my hopes of keeping up a gauntlet of Modern decks. The format’s just too expensive to mess about with more than a couple decks at a time. And if Wizards is going to continue printing series of impactful Rares and Mythics into the format at a time, while also not reprinting staples, Modern’s only going to get more expensive.

As for when the best time to buy cards is, I lean towards buying either two weeks to a month after release (if I know I want the card, like the upcoming Leyline of the Void reprint) or a month or so after the card rotates out of Standard (if it’s something I didn’t figure out I wanted until later). New cards are cheapest at roughly these two times. For older cards, I usually bite the bullet and buy the card sooner rather than later, unless that card seems incredibly likely to get reprinted soon. For the most part, Magic card prices just go up – so it’s better to buy now.

Or Maybe, Just Play Pauper Instead?

As I was putting this article together, Wizards announced that they are finally going to support paper Pauper as a sanctioned format. Pauper is a fantastic budget format. For example, I could purchase a couple whole Pauper decks for the amount it would take to “upgrade” Grixis Shadow to Esper Shadow. Also, the Pauper games I’ve played have been interesting, fun, and interactive.

If local game stores begin supporting Pauper (which is a big if – Pauper staples sell for nothing compared to Standard and Modern staples, so there’s little incentive to buy and sell them, and therefore entice players to play the format), I might jump ship from Modern to Pauper. I don’t need to play Rares and Mythics when I play Magic – I just want to play with cards I like. And there are plenty of Commons that I like.

If Pauper takes off IRL, you might see another budget-related article here soon, explaining how I turned three Scalding Tarns into a suite of Pauper decks.

For Commander: Build with Restrictions

It’s easy to spend a ton of money on a Commander deck. Believe me, I’ve done it. And while I do recommend eventually creating one high-powered deck that utilizes some of Magic‘s best (and thus most expensive) cards, you don’t need to shell out on every Commander deck you create.

Instead, you can build decks using restrictions – and encourage your playgroup to do the same.

The restrictions could be monetary. You could have your playgroup create decks that cost $50 or less and face off with them. I often held myself to this budget when first buying cards for a new Commander deck. $50 was usually enough money to let me build a functional version of a new deck (for example, this is how my Daxos deck started its life). Then, if I liked the deck, I began upgrading it as my budget allowed.

Another restriction could be sticking to specific group of sets or cards, such as my “only Ravnica” restriction for my recent Niv-Mizzet, Reborn deck. The plus side of these sorts of restrictions is that you’ll find yourself updating these “restricted” decks less frequently. There likely won’t be another Ravnica set for at least five years, so I won’t have to update my Niv deck until then.

Unless I get the itch to remove that restriction …

You can get creative with your restrictions, even going so far as to build Pauper Commander decks (I’ve done this, and it’s quite fun as a 1v1 format). The important part is finding fun restrictions that your playgroup will enjoy building within, and that will actually keep your budget in check.

Note that this strategy likely won’t work for you if going to a local shop is your primary method of playing Commander. At most shops, anything goes, so you’ll likely be facing down someone’s busted Jace, High Tide Surfer deck. Them’s the breaks, and it’s unfortunately what you sign up for when you play Commander out in the wild. That’s why I recommend playing Commander with friends you know if you can, so you can build with restrictions.

If you can’t, my Modern advice might take precedence – build one competitive deck that you (and others) enjoy, before branching out if your budget allows.

For Legacy: ???

I actually don’t play Legacy, mostly DUE TO budgetary concerns. So I don’t have much advice to offer here. I do, however, know that some stores throw proxy Legacy tournaments, in which you can play with drawn-upon Mountains instead of actual Force of Wills.

If you can find one of these tournaments near you, or convince your shop to let you host an unsanctioned Legacy tournament that allows proxies, that might be your best bet for trying Legacy on a budget.


I honestly don’t spend much money on Magic, largely because I follow the guidelines I laid out above. At this point, my collection’s worth a pretty penny, but that’s because I’ve built it up over years – and thought long and hard when making any big purchases.

I also actively sell cards and decks that I’m not using, so I can reinvest in decks I do play and want to upgrade. If you’re willing to do the same, and follow the advice laid out above, I think you’ll find yourself with a manageable set of decks to maintain – even on a budget.

That said, everyone’s budget is different. Maybe the above advice doesn’t go far enough for you, or maybe it sounds too stingy. Let me know your strategy for managing Magic‘s increasingly-packed release schedule – I’m always looking for new Magic budget hacks.

Until next time, I hope this post helps you enjoy Magic, no matter your budget.

P.S. – I Almost Forgot About Cube!

If you’re interested in building and maintaining a budget Cube, I highly recommend creating a Pauper Cube (like my Modern Pauper Cube). They’re cheap to build, even cheaper to maintain, and still a great Draft experience.

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